Thursday, 15 June 2017

The least-known bit of Shakespeare everybody should read

I don't have anything clever or profound to add. I just think that as many people as possible ought to read this speech, which is taken from "Sir Thomas More", and is generally assumed by scholars to be one of William Shakespeare's key contributions to the play. The context is that More, in 1517, is addressing a large rabble of protesters who want rid of Italian Lombard immigrants who have come to London, accusing them of taking their jobs and so on (the same was true of French Huguenots closer to Shakespeare's day). More argues for compassionate treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers - the "them" of the first line. It could hardly be more timely.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers' case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.